by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Republicans campaigned last year on the promise that they would govern responsibly if they won the majority. Unfortunately, rather than solving problems, the current Republican leadership has instead prioritized divisive issues that play only to their political base. As a result, Senate Republicans have virtually shut down the confirmation process for judicial nominees and the Federal bench is approaching a vacancy crisis. This should be alarming to anyone who cares about our justice system.
In the nearly nine months since Republicans have been in the majority, judicial vacancies have almost doubled. And under Republican leadership, the Senate this year has confirmed just six judicial nominees, while dozens more await a confirmation vote. This is no way to respond to a looming vacancy crisis that will negatively impact Americans’ ability to seek justice in our courts.
The Senate’s constitutional role of advice and consent should be above partisan politics. For much of the Senate’s history, members worked across the aisle to confirm judges. In 2007, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had confirmed 29 judges nominated by President Bush at this same point in his presidency. And in the last two years of the Bush administration, we confirmed 68 nominees. We also moved President Bush’s pick for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, in a prompt manner that took just 53 days from announcement to confirmation.
By any measure, Republicans have failed to move President Obama’s nominees in a responsible manner. The nomination of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an impressive and highly qualified lawyer, languished on the floor for 56 days— longer than the five previous Attorney General nominees, combined. From announcement to confirmation, Loretta Lynch’s nomination languished for 166 days because of Republican obstruction. When Republicans finally did call her up for a vote, they required—for the very first time in Senate history—a procedural vote to overcome a filibuster on her nomination before finally approving her confirmation. And by confirming just six of President Obama’s judicial nominees this year, Senate Republicans are on pace to have the worst confirmation record of any Senate in more than a half century.